Just like many of you, I started dancing at the age of six with a tap/ballet class and then on to ballet, jazz and finally hip hop. As dancers, we live our lives in the dance. Dance inhabits every corner of our lives from everyday movement to the big performances. Often we find ourselves unconsciously walking on a downbeat or thinking in terms of music phrases. Now imagine, your ability to dance, to move, to live being suddenly taken away.
That is what happened on the day of my car accident. While waiting for a light to change, I was rear-ended by a truck and sustained life altering injuries. I was thrust forward, my seatbelt locked me back against the seat and my head wrapped up and over the head rest.
This left me with a herniated disc, damage to my neck and daily migraines coupled with black outs and seizures.I also developed what was later diagnosed as an Environmentally Induced Illness. Though I've never liked the term "illness",nor felt it was, that's the medical term. Just as the immune system protects the body, the Blood-Brain Barrier is a protective barrier which surrounds the brain. The accident jarred this barrier as my head wrapped around the head rest letting in neurotoxins, thus leaving me extremely sensitive to chemicals and scents. All the perfumes and smells I loved so much, now gave me migraines at the very onset of smell intake. As anyone who has had a true migraine knows, it's an all-consuming pain. To those who have never had a migraine, I hope you never get one. They are no joke. They are completely incapacitating and your body shuts down.
The year that followed my accident was a constant round of doctors, physical therapists and frustration. I couldn't sit, stand or move for any length of time, and the daily migraines and seizures were exhausting. The neurologists kept giving me different anti-depressants to restrict the blood vessels in my neck to eliminate the migraines, yet I only got side effects of the medication and not the benefits. The physical therapy wasn't helping and finally I was given a choice: have surgery or find a way to strengthen my lower back. It wasn't until I started going to my massage therapist at the time, that I found a way to strengthen my lower back and avoid a major surgery. She suggested bellydance as it was a low-impact core workout. I thought she was joking. I'd only seen bellydance in Golden Era movies and had no concept that this dance was a vibrant, current art form, being performed in the United States, even in my own city.
It took several months for her to convince me to take my first bellydance class but I finally agreed, as nothing else was working. I entered the class skeptically, both as a trained dancer but more importantly in anticipation if this dance was going to hurt or help. My first class was full of fun and confusion. The movement was completely foreign and my original teacher, Zaphara, was full of energy. She made us laugh showing how moves looked when they were done wrong and told lots of stories of her performances. I was so focused on trying to make sense of what the difference was between a hip drop, a shimmy and a three-quarter shimmy, that I was able to relax and ease into moving again. I had no idea what I was doing but I was dancing! I realized that was the key to getting better...I needed to feed my soul with something I loved (dance). It just happened to be a new dance form. It took some time for my body to learn new muscle memory but at least I was moving again. Because of my injuries, I had limitations and needed to figure out different ways to move.
It was frustrating at times not being able to bust out a pirouette or jazz split on command, but this new core strengthening was starting to work. As a result of the migraines and constant back pain, my pain threshold is higher than the average person. I now had to find the balance between my previous dance training and not pushing my body just because I could do the movement before. A delicate balance but one I was willing to try.
I was entranced with these new rhythms of music and movement. I was learning new ways of moving my body and having a great time. I had my first performance after only a few lessons, and to a live Egyptian full piece band! It was scary and exciting all at the same time. Having a dance background, I understood performance but this whole improvisation thing was completely new. To hit the stage without a complete choreography was nerve-racking but it allowed me to experience the joy of a "conversation" between a dancer and musician.
Common dance injuries include sprains and strains, where your muscles and ligaments are overstretched or twisted. Additionally dancers can also sustain impact injuries – such as bruises caused by falling, collisions or trips and slips. Ill-fitting shoes can cause foot and toes injuries. | Injury, Ballet, Dancer, Workout, Fitness, Dance, Athlete,
I think what I like most about this dance is there is something for everyone. Whether you choose to perform or not, dance on stage, in restaurants or not perform in public at all, there is a venue for all. This dance celebrates every body type, age, expression, style. Almost every other form of dance requires you to fit a specific criteria. In bellydance, every dancer is celebrated in their uniqueness and expression. It was a great new world and I could feel my body starting to "get it".
As I progressed as a bellydancer, I was hungry for more and needed to be challenged and grow. Hadia has always been one of my influences, along with many others. The more I learned, the more I realized just how many layers of dance there are to unwrap. Being a trained dancer, and dealing with injuries, I needed to understand not just the move but how the movement were created. I would sit for hours in my bathroom mirror slowly trying to decode what muscles were being used and how. After I figured each movement out I was able to layer movement and dance smarter. Everything from body alignment to balance to the moves themselves were so different from any other kind of dance I have experienced. I had figured out how to protect & strengthen my weakened muscles through dance. Suhaila has also been a great influence in learning my new muscle awareness. This helped unlock new ways to think of the dance with timing and layering. The more I danced, the more I found my voice and injected my own funk and flare into the mix.
What if the accident never happened?
So far this has been a fun and challenging journey. I have found a voice and expression far beyond what I had been able to accomplish in any other dance form I've been a part of. Although I still experience pain and set backs from my herniated disc and migraines, it is a continual evolvement to readjust my body and movement. I have been asked more than once if I wished the accident never happened. My answer is this: to live a life of regret and what- ifs only weighs us down. It's not what you don't have, it's what you do have. Everything happens for a reason. I may never have crossed paths with bellydance had it not been for the accident.
Life takes us on unexpected journeys. Years ago, bellydance was never on my radar. Now it's my life. Through my time as a bellydancer/instructor/performer, I've enjoyed some great things, had amazing experiences and become better as a dancer and a woman. This dance is empowering in many ways and on many levels. As a performer and instructor, I have had the pleasure of traveling to Turkey and Egypt as well as throughout the US. Bellydance allows us to grow and evolve. As a performer, it is the greatest feeling to be a positive part of someone's event and seeing the joy on their faces. As an instructor, it is amazing to be able to bring dancers to the next level. To show them things they might not have thought of and to see the moment of realization when the dancer "gets" a move. I'm constantly excited about taking the next step as a bellydancer, as a performer, as an instructor. You never know who you can help or what you can learn when you experience the different forms of bellydance around the world.
I am blessed to be able to help other dancers grow and to pay forward for all the help I got in understanding the dance that saved my life.